I am four weeks into my GDL course at City Law School and I’ve had my first set of law tutorials for each module. I’m feeling the heat a bit, and a week-long stint in hospital my 3rd week in really hasn’t helped me feel on top of all my work… Read on for my thoughts on the past few weeks and how I’ve found prepping for tutorials and keeping up with lectures.
I’ve come up with some helpful advice after facing my first round of Law Tutorials:
Law Tutorial Tip #1 – MANAGE YOUR TIME
After all of the introductory lectures were out of the way, tutorials began in the second week of the GDL. My first tutorial was for Contract law and this is where I learnt an extremely valuable lesson for the GDL – learn to manage your time. I spent far too long preparing for my tutorial. I spent nearly two whole days doing the prep work and I still had reading left over. I was really frustrated that I hadn’t been able to be totally prepared because I’d set myself a goal to never be unprepared for a tutorial.
When I got to the class I was relieved to see that others had the same problem. My tutor told us that he’d spent 15 hours reading the relevant cases to prepare for the class and that put us at ease a bit. He told us that we ought to be putting one day aside to prepare for each tutorial. Whether that day is 4, 6, 8 or 10 hours long was up to us.
Law Tutorial Tip #2 – Be prepared to actually do your reading
When you get to the GDL be prepared to do your reading. It sounds obvious, but take heed. This isn’t like an undergraduate History/humanities degree where you could genuinely get away with skim reading the essential readings before a seminar. Try that on the GDL and you’ll be left looking very naked in the classes. It’s essential to manage your time and leave yourself plenty of opportunity to be fully ready for your classes.
Law Tutorial Tip #3 – Focus your tutorial reading around the tutorial questions
My next tutorials were for Equity and Trusts and Public Law. Having learnt my lessons from Contract earlier in the week I set a whole day each to complete the readings for each class. I also followed the advice of my tutors and classmates and focused the reading around the tutorial questions. This made a WORLD of difference. I was able to focus the reading and manage my time much better. When it came to the actual tutorials I didn’t feel like I had missed any content and I also was able to contribute to the discussion really well. What I noticed was that the discussions aren’t really linear. Everyone will volunteer an opinion and then back up their argument by using or distinguishing between different authorities. Which brings me onto my next tip for Law tutorials…
Law Tutorial Tip #4 – LEARN THE AUTHORITIES/CASE LAW
When I was doing reading for my History and Politics seminars I really didn’t actually need to have sources I could point to when making contributions. The emphasis was on debate and drawing out different arguments and issues within certain topics. You could definitely get away with not knowing exactly which academic said what, as long as you understood and were aware of the different opinions/theoretical viewpoints that had been volunteered on the subject. The specifics of who said what could be clarified later in essays and exam revision.
Preparing for law tutorials is nothing like that. Anytime you volunteer an opinion, the first question the tutor will ask is: “which authorities are you relying upon?“. Knowing the different cases that have established certain points of law and have upheld or dismissed certain legal arguments is essential. Say for example if you were in a Contract tutorial and wanted to argue that it doesn’t matter if an acceptance of an offer by email went to your junk inbox because as far as the law is concerned the offer has been accepted and the contract is binding; you would need to know exactly in which case that principle was established. Better still, it helps to know the Judge that made the comment. If the rule had previously been different you’d need to know when the principle was clarified and understand how that affected further cases in the future.
I really neglected to do this in my first tutorial and found that I had an excellent understanding of the principles, but without being able to point at the specific case/cases I was relying upon to make the point, I may as well have been making it all up. Now when preparing for tutorials and answering the questions I always ask myself “which authority are you relying upon Blessing?“. It really helps! It’s important to learn this lesson early because you’ll have a hard time in exams if you can’t do this.
After four weeks of law lectures I’ve learned some valuable tips to stay on top of the content:
Law Lecture Tip #1- Be prepared; bring snacks and drink a lot of coffee.
I mentioned that lectures on the GDL course at City are two hours long. That’s not two hours going at half-speed, it’s two hours of solid content back to back with a 10 minute break in between. Any illusions I was under that lectures would be at a fairly steady pace after induction week had swiftly disappeared by the time the second week of teaching began. Lecturers cover a great deal of content extremely quickly and you have to stay attentive the whole time.
I fondly reminisce about being able to half-listen in a lecture and know that I can catch up on everything in the power points later. Only four of my lecturers actually have their lectures mapped up on power points. Some do brief bullet points on only around eight to 10 slides. Some don’t do any and rely on white boards to briefly scribble a particular case or illustrate one point. Where a lecturer doesn’t use a power point they will have a printed book of lecture handouts that we are to turn to in lectures. You need to do that, listen and type or write your notes. If you stop paying attention, you’ll lose the entire point. Did I mention there is no lecture capture either?
Law Lecture Tip #2 – Learn to take notes quickly.
As I mentioned earlier the pace of lectures is fast. Unsurprisingly, they expect you to be able to take down a great deal of information. If you do not know how to take notes extremely quickly, you may find yourself struggling.
If you have been away from academic learning for a while, or you didn’t do a degree that required a large amount of speed writing then it is imperative that you perfect this skill before you start the course. I highly suggest making an effort to write more and be sure that you are used to typing or writing at speed before you begin the GDL. Regarding whether you should write or type your notes, it really falls down to what works best for you. In the GDL course at City you have the option to type your exams and I have been told that more marks are awarded the more you can write. So don’t let that get you down!
It is a bit annoying, especially given that some of us are more into audio learning or seeing the visual picture of a powerpoint. A true downside to the GDL is that the learning is fairly text-heavy. And unfortunately, much of legal practice seems to be like that as well. How do you get around it if this is a weakness for you? I’d suggest practicing for a while before you start. Part of the motivation for starting this blog was that it would keep my writing skills sharp. I didn’t want to lose the speed-writing skills I’d perfected over three years of essay-writing. I also kept reading over the months before the course so that my speed-reading skills were also on point. It helped me be much more prepared for a learning style that can definitely pose its challenges!
I also find looking over what will be coming up before the lecture really helpful and it helps me be much more prepared to take my notes.
I’m still having a really great time though!
Although the workload is dense, I’m still having a great time! I was really upset to be in hospital for the whole third week (I’m okay now don’t worry!) not only because of falling behind, but because I was really looking forward to the class discussion in tutorials.
We’ve been set our first coursework title (mine is for Equity and Trusts) which is due at the end of this current reading week. I’ll be updating you in a few weeks about how my first assignment went. I’ll also be sharing news about the ‘The School Exclusion Project‘ which is a ProBono project I’ve been accepted onto. Also expect updates on where I am at with mini-pupillage applications before the Pupillage gateway opens in January.
Ps, if you’re intending to start the BPTC in 2018 – Scholarship interview sign-up deadlines are landing around the end of this month so be sure to check the deadline for your chosen inn!